¶ The AirPrint Monopoly

Last September, during Apple's annual music-focused event, they previewed iOS 4.2 as the pinnacle release to unify the iPhone/iPod touch with the iPad on a software level. Another feature that Apple touted was AirPrint, which would allow printing from an iOS device without needing to install printer drivers. The idea was that as long as a printer was on the same network as the iOS device, it would simply just be available.

The gotcha was that the printer had to have AirPrint technology baked into it. And Apple said that any manufacturer could do this, as they would be opening up the technology.

Apple also said that there would be a workaround where your Mac would make any AirPrint-less printer on your network available to your iOS device, as long as the Mac was currently running on the same network as your iOS device. I thought that was great, as my printer works fine, and if I am home, my Mac is usually on.

Well, a funny thing happened. All through the betas of iOS 4.2 and OS X 10.6.5, this AirPrint bridge for older printers worked — right up until the GM versions. Suddenly, when iOS 4.2 and OS X 10.6.5 made their public debut, the AirPrint bridge mode was gone, even from the website.

And the only printers available with AirPrint were a new breed of HP printers. I found that to be mostly understandable, for one manufacturer to have the first few AirPrinters. Others would follow soon, right?


Nine months after AirPrint's public debut, HP is the only manufacturer offering the technology. Why? Did Apple and HP make an exclusivity agreement? Did every other printer manufacturer find AirPrint to be too costly or cumbersome to implement? I don't know.

I don't know why this bothers me so much, as I rarely ever print anything. Maybe it is the realization of seeing a trend of broken promises from Apple for minor technology features. For instance:

  • Time Machine via AirPort. When OS X Leopard entered developer preview at WWDC a number of years back, Apple touted that users would be able to attach an external hard drive to the back of an AirPort Extreme in order to use it as a wireless backup hub for the whole family using Time Machine. When Leopard was released, the feature was gone. A few months later, at Macworld Expo, Apple unveiled the Time Capsule, which was an AirPort with an integrated hard drive for Time Machine backups.
  • FaceTime. Don't get me wrong, I love FaceTime. It's used weekly in home. But I remember Apple saying a year ago that they were opening it up as a public spec, so any manufacturer could integrate the FaceTime service. I really don't care that FaceTime is still only available to Apple hardware, as the people I want to use it with are able to, but it is another promise that has yet to be fulfilled.

None of these are earth-shattering. Nothing like RIM or HP shipping tablets with half-baked, buggy software and then promising to deliver updates in weeks or months. For all I can guess, maybe Apple decided features like Time Machine over AirPort or AirPrint didn't work well unless they remained largely closed system. And maybe they decided to keep FaceTime in-house as a competitive advantage. I sure haven't seen any other phones or devices that have implemented video calling as robust as FaceTime, not even those that use Skype.

I think, maybe, the thing that bothers me about these examples is that it is uncharacteristic for Apple to promise something, and then not deliver.